Who are the Mangbetu Tribe?
Lipombo is a practice (among the Magbetu people) of deforming the skull to take to desire patterns. Mangbetu people are a tribe in central Africa, currently in the northeast of the Democratic Republic of Congo. This tribe became popular due to their historic practice of skull deformation.
The Mangbetu people mode their heads according to their desire patterns. This practice was applied in the early year of the child. The baby’s head was tightly wrapped with a cloth until the desired shape had been achieved. This practice was also traced to the Mayans and Egyptians (1).
Before this wrapped cloth would be removed, it took up to a year. This was to give the child a very strong, “laid, portrait and elongated occipital head.” This practice is now open to historical debate, whether it was barbaric or a unique modification. Notably, the training of skull has also been attached to the Egyptians and the Mayans. Every society has its own culture, which tells its people things around them, the way they see the world, and the interpretations they can give to nature.
Therefore, the skull training by the Mangbetu tribe should not be seen from any other perspective than Mangbetu’s! During the process of deformation, the brain expands exactly with the shape of the brain. The deformation did not use to affect the brain, as popularly claimed, in as much the “intracranial pressure remains the same as that of a normal person,” the brain would grow and adapt to the new shape during the process.
Implications of Lipombo
This practice meant much to the Mangbetu people, even though people of other cultures might see it as a barbaric exercise. It was one of the ways in which they expressed their imaginations to the world. They had another perspective of this practice, and they kept doing this for several years before the contact with the colonial power. This practice began to decline in the 1950s with the arrival of many Europeans. The Belgian government, which ruled over colonial Congo, also made Lipombo illegal.
Symbols of Beauty
The Mangbetu believed an elongated head was a sign of beauty. The deformation was “considered a symbol of great beauty and social standing in the society.” (3). This practice gave them distinctive features among other tribes in this region, in the remotest part of DR Congo.
Sign of Intelligence
They also saw the skull deformation as a sign of intelligence and it was also a significant emblem of hierarchy among the ruling class. Because the elders wanted their children to be intelligent, and smart, they started the skull deformation for them at an early age and allowed the wrapped cloth to give desired shapes (elongated) before they removed it. The practice began immediately when the child clocked a month.
It will be shocking, or perhaps unbelievable to know that some members of this tribe still practice skull deformation till today. Some of them oppose this practice because, they say, it affects the brain of the child. However, there have been several scientific claims that the brain adapts to any desired shape without any impairment.
The Mangbetu tribe established several viable kingdoms across Central Africa in the 19th century before their settlement in the northeastern part of Congo. Their major economic engagements were farming, fishing, hunting and gathering.
Conclusively, the Mangbetu people are a significant ethnic group in Africa with unique features, as evidenced by their Lipombo practice, and also, artistic innovations. They are a product of African development which has depicted one of the distinctive, unique perspectives of pre-colonial African society.
Citation: Faforiji Tadese. Lipombo: The Elongated-head Tradition of the Mangbetu. October 20, 2021. Tadexprof. Retrieved at https://tadexprof.com/2021/10/lipombo-the-elongated-head-tradition-of-the-mangbetu/
- An elongated head was an ideal of beauty among the Mangbetu people, 1930. Retrived at https://rarehistoricalphotos.com/elongated-head-ideal-beauty-among-mangbetu-people-1930/
- FREDRICK NGUGI The Art of Skull Elongation by the Mangbetu Tribe in DR Congo Retrieved at https://face2faceafrica.com/article/art-skull-elongation-mangbetu-tribe-dr-congo
- An elongated head was an ideal of beauty among the Mangbetu people, 1930. Rare Historical Photos. Retrieved at https://rarehistoricalphotos.com/elongated-head-ideal-beauty-among-mangbetu-people-1930/